Bikes, pedestrians and cars: How do all users share Prospect Park’s loop safely?
The Prospect Park Road Sharing Task Force meeting on Tuesday night for changing the lane designation for all users on the 3.3-mile long drive throughout the park.
About 150 people, cyclists, pedestrians and motorists, attended the meeting to share their point of view on the proposal, which will cut two car lanes to one 10-foot space with a three-foot shoulder, give cyclists a 10-foot wide lane divided in two for racing bikers and slower cyclists and a 14-foot, two-way lane entirely for pedestrians at all times nearest to the interior of the park.
The overwhelming majority of community members applauded the plan, but said it should go a little further—ban cars from the park completely.
Eric McClure, co-founder of Park Slope Neighbors, took the mike and shared his thoughts to the entire room:
“This plan will make the park safer for everyone, but we’re not going far enough, we need cars out of the park,” McClure said, explaining that Park Slope Neighbors conducted a radar study on the park’s West Drive last Thursday, where they found that 99 percent of cars driving along the loop were exceeding the 25 mile per hour speed limit, with an average of 39 mph.
“What we found was eye-opening,” he said, explaining that 193 cars out of 195 that they monitored with a radar gun were speeding, with a top speed of 53 mph.
“We have a golden opportunity to use science,” he said, suggesting that the Task Force run a three-month car-free park pilot this summer to see if a car-free park is, well, a safer park. “We will all benefit from a park that is a free from motor vehicles.”
Marc Russo, a 33-year Park Slope resident, said that he would rather see no cars in the park than the proposed a single lane.
“If you have one lane in the park you are going to see massive traffic jams and if there is an accident cars will swerve into the bike lane,” Russo said, explaining that the plan “demonizes” cars and the vast majority of Brooklynites do not live a biking lifestyle. “Right now this is a dangerous plan, drivers are going to become irate and the one lane will goat them into driving dangerously. It is better to have no cars than just one lane.”
As of now, there are two lanes (a total of 23 feet) dedicated to cars during the morning and evening rush hours, 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on the East Drive, and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the West Drive.
The Task Force found that under the proposed plan traffic may be delayed 13.3 seconds during the morning hours and 5.6 seconds during the evening.
Emily Lloyd, Prospect Park Administrator who hosted the meeting, said that the proposed plan, which the Department of Transportation is expected to roll out this spring, was created to reduce the “higher frequency of accidents that occurred last year.”
According to the Task Force, there were nine accidents in 2011 and so far this year, there have been four accidents. Last year, left the walkers with for a while.
The plan, Lloyd said, will help prevent future accidents.
“All the signs and lane designations will be consistent and the changes are a great opportunity to increase safety for all users,” Lloyd said. “Predictability is key, if I am a cyclist I want to know that a kid won’t be running across my path, if I am a mother with a kid, I want to know that a biker won’t hit us.”
Councilman Brad Lander said if cars were banned from the park completely it could possibly start a “culture war.” But some argued that the issue is not that cars have been hitting pedestrians, but rather that cyclists have been hitting pedestrians.
Mary Bcdel Kliner, who said she is friends with Linda Cohen, the park volunteer who suffered severe brain trauma after being hit by a cyclist on Nov. 3 while crossing West Drive near the Vanderbilt Street playground, said bikes go faster than cars in the park.
“I have never had a problem with cars, the problem is with bikers, they don’t stop at red lights, they don’t follow the rules,” Bcdel-Kleiner said. “The park should be for kids and their families. Bikes go much faster than cars.”
But at the end of the night, the issue most people had with the plan was that cars are still going to be in the park.
Michael Epstein, who wants the park to be reserved for bikers and pedestrians, said that the community should not stop advocating the ban of cars in the park.
“I think about this issue like gay marriage in the sense of the gradual process, state-by-state,” Epstein said. “Even the opponents of a car-free park know it’ll happen.”